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Study Abroad France: Immerse Yourself in European History at the Château de Pourtalès

This article is one of a series about the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Study Abroad France program, taking place June 24-July 23, 2022, in Strasbourg, France. The program, titled “Leading for Impact & Innovation,” offers college students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perfect their leadership skills and learn from leading social entrepreneurs in Europe while earning 6 academic credits at their college or university. Applications are due by March 15. Click here to learn more about this unique study-abroad adventure.

The Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Study Abroad France program offers more than an opportunity to build your leadership skills and study with some of Europe’s leading impact entrepreneurs. It’s also a chance to immerse yourself in the rich and storied history of your temporary home, Château de Pourtalès, built around 1750 in beautiful Strasbourg and the former residence of wealthy European aristocrats.

Melanie de Bussière—known in royal circles as the Countess de Pourtales—was a prominent salonnière in Parisian high society and a courtier to the French emperor, Napoleon III, and his empress, Eugenie de Montijo. The daughter of Baron Alfred Renouard de Bussière and Sophie Melanie de Coehoorn, the countess presided over one of the most famous salons of the Second French Empire at her home, the Château de Pourtalès.

A portrait of the Countess de Pourtalès by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1877

In her role as a French socialite, the countess hosted many of Europe’s most notable figures, including the emperor and empress, the philosopher and humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer and the famed Hungarian composer, Franz Liszt, as well as Ludwig I, the King of Bavaria. She also sat for a portrait by the celebrated French artist, Pierre-August Renoir.

Apply today for the Sullivan Foundation’s Study Abroad France program.

Often described as a “fairytale castle,” the Château de Pourtalès fell into the hands of the Germans during World War I and again in World War II. During the latter war, it was used to house high-ranking Nazi officials before Allied Forces liberated the castle and took it over for a short time after peace was declared.

After being converted to a university briefly, the castle fell into disrepair until Dr. Walter Leibrecht, the founder of Schiller International University, purchased and restored it to house the university’s students for a quarter of a century. In 2009, the château was transformed by its new owners, Harald and Ulrike Leibrecht, into a hotel, where many members of the European Parliament have resided during parliamentary sessions.

During your study-abroad stay at the Château de Pourtalès, you might find yourself rubbing elbows or sipping coffee with some of Europe’s leading policy makers and business leaders. Head into the city itself, and you can visit the formal seat of the European Parliament, enjoy sweeping views of the Rhine River, stroll the city’s numerous pathways, ride in a tram car, and steep yourself in Franco-German culture—Strasbourg is, after all, a border city near Germany.

Related: Study abroad in Strasbourg, France in Summer 2022 for under $4,000

It’s also an ancient city. Strasbourg was officially founded in 12 B.C. by the Romans but, prior to that, served as a permanent settlement of the early Celts from around 1,300 B.C. No doubt Druid priests worshipped and performed mysterious pagan rites in its nearby forests before the Romans muscled their way into the territory. The city and its environs were a battleground on and off for centuries, conquered by the Franks in the fifth century, recaptured by the Holy Roman Empire, seized by Louis XIV in 1681 and occupied by German forces in the 20th century’s two world wars.

Today, in addition to hosting the European Parliament, Strasbourg is home to the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

A Side Trip to Paris: A Study Abroad Student Offers Tips for Exploring the City of Light

In this Summer 2020 blog post originally published on the CEPA Foundation’s website, Sarah Wallace, at the time a student at West Virginia University, reflected on her experience as a study-abroad student in Strasbourg, France. It is reprinted with permission from the CEPA Foundation, a partner in the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Study Abroad France program taking place June 24-July 23 in Strasbourg.

Story and photos by Sarah Wallace

When I imagined studying abroad in France, there was always one thought that was prominent in the back of my mind: Paris. Living on the eastern side of France in Strasbourg, Paris was only a short train ride away, though les grèves made booking the train quite difficult. However, I vowed that no one or nothing could keep me from Paris, and finally, I got to live my dream.

Many natives warned me that Paris might not live up to my expectations, and they were partly right, as I did not manage to do everything in Paris that I had planned (especially in just one day trip). But overall, this experience was exciting, scary and everything I wanted it to be.

Firstly, we had a very typical and uneventful train ride. As I mentioned, it was very short (compared to the rest of Europe) and only took about two hours to arrive to our destination. My friend attending a different university in France missed her train to meet with us and had to book a later train. Tip #1: The train waits for no one. However, this gave us time to relax in a very atmospheric coffee shop near the train station, and the coffee was only €2.50. Paris was already great.

Related: Study abroad in France next summer for under $4,000 through the Sullivan Foundation

When my friend arrived, we still had the entire day ahead of us to explore this beautiful city. My dream trip to Paris had to include a visit to the Louvre. However, upon arriving, we found that the Louvre had to be closed for the day because of the protests. Tip #2: Check up on your ideal destinations BEFORE you get there.

Therefore, we decided to visit my second ideal Paris location: the Eiffel Tower. However, we first had to embark on the true Paris experience, and, by this, I mean we took the metro. I had heard many horror stories about the Paris metro, although it was not at all the picture painted by the Parisians from my home university. The metro was easy enough to find, and though I was confused at first by the ticket process, I found that messing with machines is the best way to figure them out. I definitely recommend buying the Day Trip ticket pass, as we were able to travel all through Paris for only €12.

Not only was I surprised that the metro was even open (due to les grèves), it was not as crowded as I had expected. The only scary part that I experienced was that, after looking away for mere seconds, I looked down to find every zipper in my purse had been completely unzipped by pickpockets. Thankfully, I had anticipated this and hid my valuables inside the lining of my purse, so all that they found were cough drops and old receipts. Tip #3: Secure your valuables.

As we were walking toward the Eiffel Tower, we spoke amongst each other in English, in a typical loud and annoying American way.

Related: Study Abroad France: A life-changing adventure in Strasbourg

Tip #4: Blend in as much as possible. We realized that we were very obviously standing out as American tourists and quite possibly putting a target on ourselves after being catcalled by Parisian men and the pickpocket incident on the metro. We spoke French for the remainder of the day and were completely left alone. However, it probably did not help our mission of blending in that I was wearing an extremely cliché beret. Tip #4.5: French people don’t really wear berets that much (not that I care).

Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower. I was so taken aback by the impressiveness and sheer incredibility of the modern wonder. I had to just sit down on a bench and stare up at it for over 30 minutes, just taking in the moment. I could not believe I was there.

We walked around the monument to the opposite side to take pictures. Tip #5: The Champ de Mars side of the Eiffel Tower is the best place to take pictures. Not only is it beautiful, but it is at the perfect angle and away from the intense crowd of tourists on the side of the Seine.

Related: Sullivan Foundation to launch leadership and entrepreneurship coursework program in 2022

After I was finally peeled away from gazing up at this incredible tower, we began looking for a restaurant. However, we soon realized that all the restaurants close to the Eiffel Tower were tourist traps and were incredibly expensive. So, with a quick hop on the metro, we found that the further we got from the tower, the less expensive the restaurants were. Tip #6: Stray from the Eiffel Tower to find cheaper restaurants. We found ourselves at this hole-in-a-wall restaurant in a back alley in Paris called Bistrot Victoires. I ordered the duck confit with a glass of Bordeaux and had the best meal of my entire life for only €14.

Finally, we finished our trip to Paris by walking around to enjoy the nightlife and ending the night at a small bar. We almost missed our train because we tried to Uber back, but we made it there with four minutes to spare. Tip #7: Paris traffic is intense. Just take the metro.

Although this Paris experience was not the one I dreamed of, I actually prefer the one I had. Instead of rushing around to every museum, landmark and tourist trap, I had a much more relaxed experience and really got to see the city as it is. There might have been a few minor scary experiences, but everything worked out in the end, and I learned from each mishap I encountered. Paris might not have been the Paris I was expecting, but the joy it gave me was exactly what I expected, and its beauty exceeded my expectations.

A native West Virginian, Sarah Wallace earned her bachelors degree in international studies, political science and French from West Virginia University. She attended the University of Strasbourg as an exchange student studying political science. After graduating, Sarah planned to volunteer in the Peace Corps in the Youth and Development sector and dreams of one day becoming president of the United States (or the world).